iBeacon Alternative: Arduino Beacons and Evothings HTML Studio

Want to create your own beacon? Grab an Arduino and check out the Evothings road map to make it happen. The company demonstrates how to use their Evothings Studio to deliver interactions based on HTML and Javascript to to the end user, whether for iOS or Android.

Using a relaxation/exercise example, the company notes that by creating your own beacon from widely-available Arduino components, you can overcome limitations with the Apple iBeacon specification. They make a strong argument for the approach:

In this tutorial, we will create a mobile app for Android and iOS, that uses an Arduino compatible board with a BLE shield to create a beacon. This can be thought of as a Do-It-Yourself version of Apple’s iBeacon technology – which is proprietary and restricts the way you can scan for beacons.

The reason we are using the Arduino for the beacons is that it can be easily programmed and that it is a cool tinker-friendly piece of technology that you can evolve far beyond the limits of iBeacons. The foundation of the iBeacon technology is the use of a small BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) device that periodically advertises a UUID (Universally Unique Identifier) – however we will use the BLE name which is accessible across all mobile devices.

Apple has specific criteria for how it broadcasts a Bluetooth LE signal and locks down the ability of developers to, for example, change the advertising packets when using your iPad or iPhone as a beacon (as noted by David Young of Radius Networks in a discussion of AltBeacon).

Using Arduino also helps you bypass a challenge with Android devices. Most can’t broadcast as a beacon device although the capability will be unlocked with Android-L, the latest version of the operating system.

Here’s a video of the demo app and its interaction with an Arduino beacon:

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Thanks to Evothings for pinging us about the tutorial. And if you create your own Arduino beacons, let us know about it in the comments below!

Grow Beyond the Beacon: Shift Your Business to the Internet of Things | Guest Post

Bluetooth Low Energy came out of Nokia, an important innovator in mobile wireless technology. It was renamed from Wibree to Bluetooth 4.0 when it was handed over to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) which allowed it to gain adoption quickly behind the Bluetooth brand

When Apple and others picked it up to make indoor localization consumer ready, they incubated a whole industry of beacon vendors and alternative approaches to BLE for indoor localization.

In concept, Apple’s idea is the simplest (and probably here to stay). But beyond beacons lies a whole area of untapped potential by leveraging the same technology in the current crop of beacons.

Discover the Power Inside Existing Beacons

Almost all the beacons on the market have a complete Bluetooth 4.0 stack waiting to be discovered by makers and product people.

Beacons work like lighthouses, broadcasting their position into the air, so navigators can use them as guides. These Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices could broadcast other information as well such as battery power or sensor data from the environment. Since BLE devices are usually extremly low power devices running on battery, they are small and independent enough that we can attach them to anything – from plants to fridges, cars, pillows, cats, …

That idea of super low power devices being various helpers in our everyday life isn’t new. It’s called the Internet of Things (IOT), which is the catchphrase for an industry that overlaps with beacons – in fact you could claim it’s the same thing.

Enabling IoT from where we are today with beacons is rewarding, business-wise, as it moves the product from being ‘another beacon thing’ to a specific consumer use case. At the same time, it’s not technically challenging, because beacons already use IoT technology at their heart.

Using IOT To Solve Problems

The key differentiator is on product design and solving a specific problem.

Let’s take plant watering, which is something that I regularly do wrong, so i’d really like something that shows me water levels on my phone.

Consumer adoption of digital moist meter solutions were always hindered by the fact that they are expensive, power hungry, big, and ugly. Here’s the secret sauce: any Beacon has gpios. If you stick two of them into soil, you have a moist meter.

It doesn’t stop with sensors. Actuators can be driven over BLE as well. Imagine something as simple as an automated hamster feeding machine controllable from your iPhones and Androids. How about a physical door opener or something that let’s me remote start those fricking Roombas from my couch (you know, the simple things that matter!)

In fact, my team built something that let’s you do that. It’s called the airfy Beacon.

As a consumer ready iBeacon compliant device, it lets you trigger lights using the iOS proximity APIs, but it’s also a hacker device, letting you, well.. stick a bunch of wires in soil and have the thing broadcast moist levels. Check it out on Kickstarter.

Bringing the Internet TO Things

A more elaborate aspect of the Internet of Things is literally bringing the Internet to things, we call it end to end IP. Connecting tiny and cheap (read: high margin) devices directly to the unrelenting creative power of the Internet is a makers dream.

Looking at the remarkable success of the Arduino, we can learn that enabling hackers is something that can be lucrative and personally rewarding, up to becoming a legendary product.

“End to End” is a long shot, with my team working together with scientists from the Berlin FU to get there. So focusing our resources and abilities on extending the beacon ecosystem into sensors and actuator networks over bluetooth is a nice short term sprint, available to anyone who already builds beacons.

In terms of technology, BLE has already existing tools available, such as GATT, to enable announcement and data exchange.

Think of it as a way to say “I’m sort of like a button, when the user presses me, I’ll send you a message”. It’s the same thing Bluetooth mice do.

Again, the best thing about all of this: you already built it. All you need to do to change markets, is to piggyback a new use case on top of your existing Beacons.

About the Author

Arvid E. Picciani (aep) is the CTO of airfy.com, an ex-Nokia engineer, IoT pioneer, and self-proclaimed embedded devices hacker. You can find more posts by Arvid on the airfy Blog.

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iBeacon in the Enterprise

iBeacon will play a role in the office of the future.

The role of mobile in the enterprise has undergone a sea change in the past year or two.

With companies increasingly abandoning hope that they can prevent the “bring your own device” (BYOD) tidal wave, employees are demanding consumer-level quality in enterprise app experiences. If they don’t get it, they’re hacking their own solutions, carrying their own companion phones where they do their ‘real’ work, and bypassing the approval procedures of the IT department.

But this week, we were reminded that the office of the future won’t just see employees choosing their own phones or laptops…we’ll see physical spaces powered by iBeacon and related technologies.

[Disclosure: we’re not strangers to this space and are partners in a platform that uses beacons and facial recognition to authenticate contractors on job sites and contractors and to manage volunteers at large events].

Robin Connects Spaces

We’re big fans of Robin. This week, they secured $1.4 in funding to continue work on enabling the smart office of the future. As TechCrunch reports:

Imagine walking into a room, having it recognize you, then customize itself to your particular preferences. That’s not the future – it’s happening now thanks to an up-and-coming startup called Robin which uses iBeacon and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) devices to detect nearby people and things. Designed for use in the workplace, Robin can automate conference room bookings just by you walking into a room. And after you enter, it can also update the screens in the room and the nearby devices, to give you control.

The company is edging towards releasing an SDK for developers which uses RestfulAPI and web sockets to ‘control’ a room. While there’s no date on the release (they’ve been working on it for some time) the tool kit could become a major player in how you get connected devices in the enterprise to ‘talk’ to its users.

Kinvey Launches Authentication

While at first glance it might not seem like it’s connected to beacons, Kinvey has become the leader in providing back-end cloud services for mobile development in the enterprise.

This week, they launched Mobile Identity Connect, which lets enterprises connect their mobile apps to secure sign-in that integrates with identity management systems such as LDAP:

Kinvey’s Mobile Identity Connect is designed specifically with mobile in mind. It presents a client developer with a simple, consistent, OAuth2 authentication flow for all enterprise authentication use cases. Utilizing Kinvey’s AuthLink technology, Kinvey Mobile Connect proxies the authentication to the underlying identity system, and retrieves a token to access enterprise resources. This token is encrypted and temporarily stored in Mobile Identity Connect token store, and an OAuth2 token is generated and returned to the device. Subsequent requests for resources then use the authentication context to securely deliver data and services to mobile devices.

When combined with Kinvey’s support for beacons in the enterprise, the company is positioned to be the go-to resource for many developers.

Brivo Labs

A big player in enterprise and enterprise security, Brivo is also a contender for the connected space. Their developer APIs are robust, integrate beacons, and use ‘social sign-on’ for office environments, sports clubs and other venues.

This week, we were struck by their work with door locks – an unlikely win, perhaps, but if you’ve ever struggled to get into your own office after hours you’ll be able to relate!

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What does the office of the future look like? How will beacons play a role? Any projects or tools you think we should share?

iBeacon Update: Success Factors and Myths

Beacons will change the way our phones respond to proximity – a paradigm change from location-based interactions.

It will move us from coupons being delivered in a store aisle to an understanding that everything can be a beacon – from a moving car to another person, from the front door of a store to the band on stage at a festival.

Beacons aren’t about where we are, they’re about what we’re close to. And while the difference might seem subtle when you’re thinking about the “location” of the cookie aisle of a store, the concept of measuring proximity to something has deep implications for UX design and physical world experiences.

Internet of Things: Waterloo Edition

Those were a few of the messages in our talk this week at the first Internet of Things Meet-Up in Waterloo. (Check out some cool photos of the event).

The event gave us a chance to meet with some of the people working in one of the hottest start-up and technology hubs on the planet.

Waterloo is home to a Google campus that generates over $1B in value for the company and the city creates some of the best engineering talent on the planet at the same universities that gave us Blackberry and dozens of other once (and future) all stars.

The event was fantastic, sponsored by Terepac and organized by Ian Pilon. (You can also keep up with the community via Twitter).

We were honored to present at the conference and presented the above deck, which gave a top-level overview of beacons, a few success factors in their deployment, and a few myths.

Among the other thoughts we shared:

  • There’s significant concern about Bluetooth LE beacon security. These concerns, while disproportionate to the actual risk, will drive a new generation of hub/node deployments of beacons
  • Beacons don’t track people – but the difference doesn’t really matter. They’ll tend to highlight the fact that you’re being tracked already which will put pressure on retailers and developers to not, well, screw up on user privacy.
  • Android is lagging. Not just because Kit Kat adoption is slower than adoption of iOS7, but because their APIs, SDKs and developer tools are less robust than Apple. But don’t expect them to sit idle – we predicted that Android would start to see very different implementations of beacons and Bluetooth LE proximity profiles than the iBeacon specification.

The meeting generated some great discussion and lots of questions. The group will meet four times a year – and is frankly worth the trip, especially if you can also spare a day or two to meet some of the amazing talent working in the area.

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Checking out the slides we presented, are there any myths or insights you’d add? Top lessons for helping folks understand the importance of beacons?

Hacking iBeacon

The simplicity of iBeacon hides a deeper challenge: thinking about mobile application development in a way that relates a user experience to the physical world.

They’ve discovered, I’m sure, that the simplicity of Bluetooth LE hides confounding challenges, about which we’ve written previously. 

A beacon doesn’t seem to do much, after all, other than advertise a small packet of data which a phone or tablet listens for and receives. Once your phone knows that it’s in range of a beacon it can figure out how close it is and then act accordingly – pull a coupon for cookies from the ‘cloud’ say, if you’re close to the snack aisle; or giving more information about a painting if you’re in a gallery.

But where most mobile businesses or retailer apps have been focused on the idea that what you see on your phone is what you get, iBeacon and Bluetooth LE challenge us to think of the physical world as a key part of the user experience.

iBeacon Hackathon: San Francisco Edition

Tonight, I’ll be judging a Hackathon being held by the folks at BeMyApp. If you’d like to watch the 14 demos you can join me in Google Hangout as I judge from afar.

I’m really excited to see what the participants have come up with – and think the event is part of a larger tipping point that might start seeing less focus spent on hacking another chat app and more energy spent thinking about how physical spaces can be made more social, more tactile, and more engaging because of their merger with digital. (Check out the summary of day one).

According to the posted project summaries on Hacker League, some of the apps include a few that deal with real pain points. Among them:

  • Using iBeacon to make shopping at IKEA awesome (although I’d settle for tolerable)
  • BeaconCityTours promises a combination of guidance and serendipity next time you visit a city
  • And most important Beercon, which lets you buy beer for others!

Hacking Is For Everyone

While the teams finalize their pitches in San Francisco, it isn’t just weekend coders who are getting into the iBeacon act. Netflix has been experimenting too. During a hackathon amongst their engineers, they used iBeacon to allow you to instantly “beam” a video from one device to another:

Chris Miles, meanwhile, is hacking Bluetooth LE with an Arduino board and LED lights:

Join me tonight for the Hackathon judging or stay tuned for a follow-up post. And remember: Be The Beacon(TM).

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Estimote's Explosive Growth: 10,000 iBeacon Developers

30,000 Estimote Beacons Are In The Wild

Global Success Points to a Year of Bluetooth LE

Estimote has over 10,000 developers worldwide working with its Bluetooth LE-capable beacons. For a technology that’s barely a few months old, the number represents a stunning level of traction.

The news comes by way of Steve Cheney who recently joined Estimote as head of business operations in its newly opened New York office:

First We Play

10,000 developer kits might seem like a tiny sliver when compared, say,  to 10 million plus Facebook applications. But there are a few key things to remember:

  • These are developer kits. They’re not actually meant for deployment (although we know for a fact that they’re being deployed regardless!)
  • There’s no web or cloud-based service yet – a key factor when Estimote is ready to launch at massive scale
  • The beacons haven’t been certified yet, nor do they conform to Apple’s iBeacon specification (through no fault of their own – Apple hasn’t released its final spec yet).

By way of comparison, Twitter had 70,000 registered applications accessing its API by 2010, 3 years after its launch at SWSX. And with Twitter we’re talking about pure software – while in the world of beacons you need, well, a thing to develop with.

Imagine if you needed to have the Twitter API mailed to you and you’ll have some idea how amazing it is to have 1/7th the traction of Twitter in 1/7th the amount of time.

Will Estimote Be a Fully Open System? Or Are We Still Waiting for the Fees?

Twitter may, however, also hold the hint of concerns about Estimote. For those who remember the way that Twitter suddenly turned the taps off to developers using its API, there’s a suitable note of caution about Estimote.

Without a terms of service and without a detailed and published outline of its future pricing policies, developers might be having a lot of fun with their beacons but might not want to build a business around their ‘motes.

Estimote may decide when it launches its cloud control panel that it will be the only access point for developers to change the UUID of a device, set it to private/pairing mode, or otherwise update the firmware. Whether it provides this service for free or a fee hasn’t been stated yet.

Much like Qualcomm is distributing low-cost beacons but charging a healthy fee to manage them on the back end, Estimote might elect to take the same path.

As Steve Cheney of Estimote notes: they’re not a hardware company, they’re a software company. So if you’ve bought yourself some Estimote beacons it’s wise to keep an eye out for what you’ll pay for the software part of the equation.

2014: The Year of the Beacon

Regardless of what to expect next from Estimote, the interest in iBeacon technology points to an amazing year ahead. Right now, I still think it’s an underrated story in the media who have mostly focused on retail experiences like the roll-out in Apple stores or at Macy’s.

But this misses the larger story: that beacons can power everything from museum experiences to how we care for patients in hospitals; that they can be both things we stick to the wall and devices we wear on our wrists.

With 10,000 developers playing with Estimote alone (and countless thousands more using other brands of beacons or making their own), we’re at the very very beginning of a bigger story: one in which the physical world becomes the interface for our digital lives because with beacons our devices can finally see.

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iBeacon: My Love is Like Chocolate for the Internet of Things

Bluetooth LE is just the start of a new world in which our devices can finally “see”. While companies like Estimote are already hybrid devices – combining an accelerometer and temperature detector to enable some fascinating uses (your shop door opens and it triggers a welcome message on a device, say), a whole range of beacons that combine different technologies are on the way.

Now if Relayr gets its wish, you’ll be able to build your own devices from component pieces and it will feel a lot like…well, like chocolate.

The Wonderbar is a Modular IOT Device
The Wonderbar is a Modular IOT Device

The proposed kits will make it easy for anyone to assemble their own Internet of Things sensors – and will come with a back-end system to help you manage your yummy looking device.

The proposed design comes with six powerful sensors that can be snapped together:

  • Light / Color / Proximity
  • Gyroscope / Accelerometer
  • Thermometer / Humidity
  • Ground Moisture
  • Motion
  • “Public” sensor
Modular iBeacon
Modular iBeacon

The main circuit is supplemented with the snap-on modules, and the developers are looking for additional ideas to add to the chocolate pieces already planned. The main circuit is charged up with a Cortex M3, Bluetooth LE sensor and charger:

  • Processor: NXP LPC1837 Cortex M3
  • Clock Speed: 180MHz
  • Flash: 1024 kB
  • RAM: 136 kB
  • IO: 12 exposed GPIO pads, including 4 ADC, SPI, I2C and SDIO
  • WiFi: IEEE 802.11b/g/n, WPA/WPA2, full TCP/IP stack including TLS
  • Bluetooth LE
  • 3.3V regulator including Li-Ion/LiPo charger

Relayr will include a back-end system and the team is deeply committed to using as much of an open source architecture as possible. Headed for Kickstarter in time for the holidays, I actually think this kit would make a great gift for the geeks in your life – or maybe you can ask for one yourself!

Sponsor the project when it’s up on Kickstarter and grab some real chocolate while you wait for your IOT bar to reach you in 2014: the year that the Internet of Things doesn’t just get big, it gets really really tasty looking too.

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